- Jillian Rose, PhD, MPH, LCSW, Assistant Vice President for Community Engagement, Diversity and Research at Hospital for Special Surgery
- Irene Blanco, MD, MS, Professor in the Department of Medicine and Associate Dean for Diversity Enhancement at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine
- Ashira Blazer, MD, MS, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology and Chair of Diversity Advisory Committee at NYU Langone Health
Racism has profound effects on the health of people of color. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the realities of racism and the impact of systemic racism on people of color. During this webinar, experts discuss how racism affects the health care and health outcomes of communities of color
Fast Facts from the Webinar
1. Understand the expression: ‘Race is not real, but racism is.’
The term “race” has been used to put groups of people in categories based on physical features, including their skin color, hair texture, or other physical characteristics. These features do not indicate shared ancestry among a group of people. In fact, there is far more genetic and biologic variation within racial groups than there is across racial groups.
For this reason, there is no definition of race based on biology.
Instead, race is considered a social construct. This means that people’s perception of race, such as the assumption that one race is superior to another, has an impact on their lives. This impact, including structures and systems in place to support such perceptions, and whether we are aware of them or not, is racism.
2. Racism directly impacts people’s health — and science proves it
Conditions in the society or setting in which you live, learn, work, and age affect your health. In a racialized society like that of the U.S., this means that perceptions, systems, and structures tend to favor white people and hurt Black people, people of color, and indigenous people. Our bodies physically respond to stressful situations, which includes the stress of living in an unequal society. When we encounter a stressful situation, our blood pressure rises and we release stress hormones, which sets into motion inflammation. Once we resolve the stressful situation, our body goes back to normal functioning. However, because people of color are constantly confronted by stressors in a racist society — from unequal treatment by law enforcement to unequal access to education, housing, and employment — the body is always physically stressed (even if you don’t necessarily realize it).
This health condition is often referred to as minority stress. It can lead to chronic wear and tear, early aging, and other health issues.
3. Race was intentionally entangled with biology to justify slavery and genocide, and this still affects health care today.
Perceptions based on supposed racial differences have been around for hundreds of years, have even been built into the practice of medicine, and continue to affect how health care is provided today. For example, research shows that Black people are taken less seriously than white people when reporting pain. The time to diagnosis for diseases like lupus is longer for people of color than it is for white people. Black and Hispanic populations have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Hospitals in communities of color tend to be underfunded and understaffed, which puts people in these communities at a further disadvantage.
4. Having conversations is a good first step, but there is more we can do.
Over the past year, there has been momentum to discuss racism in the context of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement. Such conversations help to recognize, name, and understand racism — whether in health care specifically or across other aspects of our society. However, we must confront racism directly in order to effect change. Steps that can be taken by health care organizations to alter the racist perceptions, systems, and structures currently in place include:
- Hiring and seeking to attract a diverse workforce, with a particular emphasis on increasing representation among physicians and administrative leaders
- Educating and training staff and administrators to address bias in patient-provider interactions and treatment
- Partnering with their patient communities to assist in recognizing and dismantling racism within their health care practice
As a patient, you can ask your health care organizations what they are doing to address these issues, participate on patient advisory boards, and encourage and acknowledge your health care organizations’ anti-racism programs.
Get Involved in Arthritis Research
If you are diagnosed with arthritis or another musculoskeletal condition, we encourage you to participate in future studies by joining CreakyJoints’ patient research registry, ArthritisPower. ArthritisPower is the first-ever patient-led, patient-centered research registry for joint, bone, and inflammatory skin conditions. Learn more and sign up here.